A Maniac on the loose? Ziggy Star(ter)dust’s ascension? A Need for more Speed? JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure to snaps? Jay Robins projects the Colts 2023 LB Stats.
The 2022 Colts Linebacker core surprised many. Missing All-Pro LB
Darius Shaquille Leonard for 14 games (and being limited when he did play) was a significant concern. Despite his absence, the Colts were able to hold steady at LB with career years from Zaire Franklin and EJ Speed getting more prominent roles, while Bobby Okereke gave them stability and continuity.
The Colts certainly missed Leonard’s turnover generation; but his run-stuffing, coverage, and blitzing prowesses were well replicated with the Colts LB depth. Franklin especially stepped up in a big way, breaking Leonard’s franchise single-season tackle record from 2018. It is safe to say that the Colts top 3 LBs could rank as one of the best trios in the NFL and one of the brightest spots on the Colts roster.
Okereke is now a New York Giant after he hit Free Agency and Leonard has returned and has been a full participant in Training Camp. While Okereke has been a steadying presence since he stepped into a starting LB job post-Anthony Walker Jr, the Colts have to be excited to see more of Franklin and Speed.
But what can the Colts expect their Linebackers to produce in 2023?
2023 LB Stat Projection
|Name||Shaquille Leonard||Zaire Franklin||EJ Speed||JoJo Domann||Segun Olubi / Grant Stuard|
|Tackles For Loss||7||10||6||0||0|
Maniac On The Loose Again
Shaquille Leonard in any typical year would be a prime Comeback Player of the Year candidate. But as of now, the odds are leaning heavily toward the Bills Damar Hamlin after his scary midgame medical crisis.
Regardless of that award, the Colts would be thrilled to have Leonard healthy and in form. The 3x 1st Team All-Pro LB is one of the biggest difference makers in the NFL. His knack for creating big plays, especially in clutch moments, is a trait few can replicate.
🚨 Day 8 of Colts Training Camp Update with @KBowen1070. ⬇️
– Anthony Richardson had a heck of a day!
– E.J. Speed with an interception in 11-on-11
— 1075 The Fan (@1075thefan) August 6, 2023
Adding a healthy Leonard should lead to an increase in turnovers for the Colts Defense:
- 2022 | 21 Takeaways, Ranked 19th
- 2021 | 33 Takeaways, Ranked 2nd
- 2020 | 25 Takeaways, Ranked T-5th
- 2019 | 23 Takeaways, Ranked T-10th
- 2018 | 26 Takeaways, Ranked T-10th
Of the 107 Takeaways the Colts Defense generated from 2018-2021, Leonard accounted for 28 of them (11 INTs, 17 FFs), or 26.17%. Opposing ball carriers have come to fear Leonard’s signature punch at the football.
Players Darius Leonard already has as many or more Forced Fumbles than:
Brian Urlacher pic.twitter.com/CF65KMlQJN
— Jay Robins 🧾mark (@RobinsLucas) February 23, 2022
Should he remain healthy for at least 80% of the season (14 games), he should be in line for a career-average season in most stats. It is tough to project Leonard to be fully healthy for an entire season, as we frankly have yet to see that. Even before 2022, Leonard missed 1-3 games every year with some type of injury. As unfortunate as that has been, his accomplishments and productivity in spite of that are truly remarkable.
Because of his absences in 2022, we didn’t get to see much of his fit with the new DC Gus Bradley’s system. While that is a question mark, he by all accounts is still performing highly during Training Camp. Should he perform at his usual standard, the Maniac will once again be given All-Pro honors as an elite LB.
Zaire Franklin was drafted in Round 7 of the same draft as Shaquille Leonard in 2018. Franklin didn’t become a Defensive Rookie of the Year and All-Pro out of the gate like the Maniac. Instead, he was a special teams standout & captain, while making 4 spot starts in his first 3 years. In 2021 he was promoted to be a starting SAM LB, but that position is a starter in name only with the increased usage of nickel instead of base defenses in the modern NFL scheme.
Zaire Franklin owns the Colts single-season tackle record. 164.
Former 235th overall pick.
Hasn’t missed a defensive snap this season.
Remarkable story. pic.twitter.com/R7QjSvks2k
— Charlie Clifford (@char_cliff) January 8, 2023
2022 was Franklin’s 1st season as a full-time starter in his 5-year career. In his 17 starts, he recorded an astounding stat line:
- 167 Tackles (4th)
- 102 Solos (5th)
- 12 Tackles For Loss (Tied 4th)
- 2 Force Fumbles (Tied 4th)
- 6 Passes Defended (Tied 13th)
- 3 Sacks
The 27-year-old LB from Syracuse could be in the midst of a mid-career Renaissance. Turning in an arguable top 5 season as an off-ball LB is one heckuva way to perform in your first real shot as a starter. Franklin becoming the latest in a long line of strong running mates to Shaquille Leonard might not have been on many predictions last year, but I am very happy it has happened.
Zaire Franklin 🔥🔥🔥
— Darius Butler (@DariusJButler) November 20, 2022
“Ziggy” Franklin earned a 3-year, $10m deal ($4m guaranteed) with the Colts prior to 2022 and has already surpassed it. Should he put together another really strong season in 2023, he will deservedly earn a much bigger next contract.
While it is tough to project his 2023 stats given his limited sample size and the return of Leonard, I expect Franklin to remain a top 15 LB as a baseline. Ziggy might not have much recognition outside of Indy, but he has made a huge impression on the Colts. The veteran LB has more than earned the respect of the locker room prior to his 2022 breakout. Now paired with Leonard, they should form a formidable duo.
EJ Speed has had a similar career path to the aforementioned Zaire Franklin. The 2019 4th Round Pick out of Tarleton State has been a special teams standout to begin his career. He only had 1 start prior to 2022. Then in Year 4, EJ Speed had a bigger role as the LB3 in the rotation with 5 starts. Despite being LB3 behind Franklin and Okereke, Speed finished tied 25th in Tackles for Loss among off-ball LBs.
EJ Speed sniffing out a screen immediately and laying a hit pic.twitter.com/vlHLK9LkwQ
— Jay Robins 🧾mark (@RobinsLucas) July 31, 2023
In his 19 pass rushes he also got 5 pressures and a sack. In coverage, he was only targeted 8 times in 113 snaps for 55 yards and 0 TDs. He even forced 2 fumbles in his rotational role.
While Speed won’t be a starting LB if Leonard and Franklin are healthy, he has shown flashes of being a good starting caliber LB. While he did have a chance to leave Indy for a bigger role elsewhere after 2022, he decided to return to the Colts on a 2-year, $8m deal ($3.92m guaranteed). Should injuries occur ahead of him on the depth chart, Colts fans should be excited to see what he can do.
For now, we project a similar output for him in 2023 as in 2022 due to the limited sample size. He should maintain a rotational role to give Leonard or Franklin a breather if need be and come in on 4-3 base Defense sets. But should he be given to him, expect Speed to run with it.
The Special Teamer Competition
Outside of the Colts top 3 LBs, expect the final 2-3 spots to be filled by special teams players. The Colts have 2 incumbents at those spots with 2022 UDFA JoJo Domann and 2021 Mr. Irrelevant Grant Stuard. However, Segun Olubi could be pushing them for one of those final roster spots as he bounced from the Colts practice squad and active roster throughout 2022.
Personally, I liked Domann pre-2022 draft with his versatility on Defense (can play LB and CB) and special team abilities, so I have him as the LB4 for now. Stuard was acquired in 2022 in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The special teamer played the most snaps of any of the 3 in 2022 and is well-regarded in that area.
Olubi might have been 3rd on that pecking order of Special Teams LBs in 2022, but he is possibly making the biggest impression of camp of the 3. He has snagged a pick 6, made numerous big hits, and has looked like an enforcer for the Defense. This is an underrated back of the roster battle, and Olubi is making a good case to be on the Colts 53 man roster. A concussion in the team’s preseason opener will add uncertainty to Olubi’s case for a roster spot.
NEW: The talk of Colts training camp the past few days has been the play of young linebacker Segun Olubi.
Olubi is an athletic player that has delivered countless big hits along with an insane interception of Gardner Minshew: https://t.co/hsTEDLdXU7
— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) August 7, 2023
I have little doubt that whoever is potentially cut in this battle will earn a practice squad spot. Hopefully, that spot will still be on the Colts. If not, I wouldn’t be surprised if whoever it is makes it on another team’s 53-man roster. Colts GM Chris Ballard has consistently found talented LBs during his time in Indy, so it makes sense that the depth remains strong and the competition fierce.
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